You’re getting married! Congratulations! If you’re thinking about taking lessons for any of your wedding dance needs, here are some important things to keep in mind before you start.
Let’s start with the Positives!
DO: Research and price compare dance instructors in your area. Many studios offer bridal or wedding packages at a discount to their normal private lesson packages. Take a look at reviews from past clients, ask friends and family for referrals, but most importantly TRY OUT THE STUDIO before you buy a package. Some studios offer a “free trial” lesson where you take a tour of the studio, meet with an instructor, and get a feel for the instructional style of the studio. ALL studios offer group classes, and most have a social night. Even if you go into the process thinking that you will only ever want to learn this one dance, its absolutely worth taking the time to find a dance community that works for you. Drop into a beginner group class, or turn up to a social night. Its a great way to meet studio staff and instructors, and gives you a real sense about the other dancers at the studio. And never be afraid to ask for references or examples of past work to make sure that the instructor’s choreography style will match well with your vision for the event.
DO: Inform your instructor that you are booking a wedding lesson. Studios treat wedding clients differently than private lesson students, and as such, often book wedding lessons differently than other appointments. For new clients especially, mention that you are looking for a First Dance lesson at booking, so that the studio can alert your instructor.
DO: Discuss your expectations for the dance with your spouse/child/parent/friends before coming to the lesson. In the same way that you wouldn’t walk into a cake tasting or dress appointment without a plan, make sure that you have at least a rough idea of what you would like from your first dance. Your instructor will likely ask questions about the venue, theme, dress, music set-up, and room layout, as well as song, song length, entrance, exit, and vision for the dance. Be prepared to answer those questions on day 1! In the FAQs section I list out the questions I ask my wedding clients, so that you can properly prepare.
DO: Have a positive attitude! Weddings are stressful, and at times planning one can seem overwhelming. Learning to dance can also feel stressful and overwhelming, so coming into each lesson with a “We will conquer this” attitude will greatly improve your experience. A great dance instructor will be positive and encouraging through out the process, and will help guide you through tough days, but ultimately its up to you to make sure that the experience is pleasant rather than just another check box on a to-do list.
DO: PLAN AHEAD! Treat your first dance the same way you treat the cake, flowers, and DJ timeline. The more notice, the better. I recommend starting dance lessons no later than 3 months out from your wedding. If you’re expecting Dancing with the Stars level dancing for your wedding, or an extravagant group number, plan to start taking lessons once a week for at least 6 months to a year. Just like everything else, your dance ability will not appear overnight, and you won’t be able to conquer Everest in an hour. Set aside a dance budget, and treat your first dance as a priority, rather than an after thought.
Alright, now on to the things to avoid!
DON’T: Enter into a dance package on a whim. There is nothing more frustrating for a dance instructor to hear than “we don’t want to look like we learned how to dance, we just don’t want to shuffle for 3 minutes”. Your instructor will put their heart and soul into making sure that your choreography is unique to your song and to your personality. That often requires spending time outside of your lesson making sure that your vision and your instructor’s vision are in line, doing research, cutting music, and preparing so that each lesson is productive and progressive. The expectation is that you, as the client, are bringing that same level of passion and commitment to each lesson. If you’re not interested in continuing lessons, or just want to learn one or two patterns, be up front and realistic with your instructor.
DON’T: Forget to practice. At the end of the day, your instructor will get paid the same regardless of whether you progress through new choreography each week or spend the entire hour reviewing the same patterns as the prior lesson. Make your dollar go farther by spending a minimum of 2 hours a week practicing outside of your lessons.
DON’T: Don’t get discouraged! Learning a new skill is a process, and it takes time. Remember that your dance instructor has spent years training and honing their skills to get to the level they are at, so trying to compare yourself to them is setting yourself up for failure. Trust when your instructor celebrates your progress. A good way to track this yourself is to have your instructor video your dance lesson during the first 15 minutes of your lesson, and again at the very end of your last lesson. You’ll be surprised how stark the contrast will be after only a few weeks.
Last, but not least, those Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: What answers should I have prepared for my instructor?
For my students, I ask the following questions during our first lesson.
*What song are you using?
*Do either of you have any prior dance experience?
*Tell me a bit about your venue.
*What is the overall feel or theme you are wanting for your reception?
*What type/size floor will you be on? Are you using a DJ?
*Are you intending to use the full song or cut the song? If you’re cutting the song, are you simply fading out at a certain point or are we cutting out sections of the song?
*Tell me about your dress (any limiting factors I need to know about).
*Are you wearing your suit jacket for the dance?
*Do you have the shoes you’ll be wearing with you?
*Will you be on the dance floor when the music begins, or do you want to walk on as the music is playing?
*Are there any specific elements that you want to include in your dance?
Q: Do I need to have a song prepared for my first lesson?
YES!!!! If you want your first lesson to be positive and productive, please already have a song in mind that you plan to use for your dance.
Q: I’d like to surprise my daughter/son with this dance, can you do that?
Yes, and no. If your daughter/son has ballroom dance experience (they were on a team in school, they go out social dancing, they currently compete or perform), then it makes the process much easier. If they have not danced at all, and you are a true beginner, we should probably plan on having at least one joint lesson close to the event so that they aren’t blindsided or overwhelmed. As a general rule, surprising guests is a great idea, surprising your dance partner is risky.
Q: I want our dance to be *insert movie or DWTS routine*, can you do that?
Yes, and no. Previously choreographed routines (such as Dirty Dancing‘s “Time of your life”) fall under the original choreographer’s Intellectual Property. And while we can get pretty close to replicating, for professional reasons, it won’t ever be 100% the original routine. Also remember that a move that looks great on an actress or professional dancer, won’t necessarily look right on a true beginner. There’s nothing wrong with asking your instructor to be inspired by someone else’s work, but don’t expect a count for count copy.
Q: I don’t want something complex, why should we go with a choreographed routine? Can’t we just learn a few steps and then make it up as we go?
Choreography doesn’t have to be a scary word. From an instructor’s perspective, choreography just means placing patterns and steps in a particular order and practicing the dance consistently in the same order. For students new to dance that are learning specifically for a wedding dance, choreographed routines are nearly always let stressful. Think of it as a blueprint, that you control the complexity of. If you want something incredibly simple, your instructor can set out an order for 2 or 3 step patterns. If you want something more complex, the instructor will add more variety.
Please leave your comments, experiences, and questions in the comments section below. As I have more questions asked, I’ll come back and post a follow-up FAQ. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a starting point to spark conversation.